Discontent and longing tell the story on Shame and Sedition, the bracing third album from New England trio Lula Wiles. From anguish over relationships gone bad to fury at the injustices of the world, Eleanor Buckland, Isa Burke, and Mali Obomsawin call out bad actors who leave things in a sorry state and look to right those wrongs, both personal and systemic.
Lula Wiles is a genuine group effort, not a solo project disguised as a band. All three players write, separately and together, and take turns providing graceful lead vocals, sometimes joining in gorgeous harmonies not far from the engaging teamwork of I’m With Her. If the music doesn’t espouse folk purity, it doesn’t stray far from those acoustic guitar roots. Understated splashes of keyboard, fiddle, and, especially, Burke’s spiky electric guitar add diverse shades to the polished sound, with drummer and frequent collaborator Sean Trischka crafting subtle grooves.
Regarding the big picture, Lula Wiles sees plenty to lament, but also grounds for hope. Sometimes the commentary takes form of a gentle nudge. Recalling a woozy Beatles ballad, the dreamy “Everybody (Connected)” notes the universal desire for a higher purpose, complete with Mellotron-like Farfisa touches, while the lovely “Do You Really Want the World to End?” rejects apathy and negativity, declaring, “If I could only reach you … I would make you care / About people like me and my friends.”
Elsewhere, pointed grievances emerge. The catchy “Television,” a surefire hit in another reality, notes disdainfully, “Everybody’s buying when they’re selling division,” adding, “The method is hatred.” And “Oh My God” fairly oozes menace, building from an easy shuffle to an angry anthem targeting modern-day robber barons and threatening, “Your time is gonna run out soon.”
For all Lula Wiles’ righteous indignation, the interpersonal songs cut deepest. The countrified “Mary Anne” addresses a longtime frenemy who still casts a powerful spell, suggesting a complicated, unresolved relationship, and the sleepy “Cold Water” dismisses a lover, proclaiming defiantly, “I’m free / From the morphine drip of you wanting me.”
Buckland’s devastating masterpiece, “The Way That It Is,” reveals a heart drowning in despair. Driven by a steady pulse that gradually ramps up the tension, she surveys the wreckage of a failed romance, trying and failing to move on. “Why am I still ashamed?” she asks calmly, hinting at ugly events. Turning to her new life in a new town, Buckland finds no solace, enclosed by darkness and cut off from friends. “I used to think the universe was giving us a sign / I don’t know why I ever believed in that shit,” she exclaims, succumbing to corrosive bitterness. Regret doesn’t come in a more chilling package.
Otherwise, Shame and Sedition feels like a useful resource for modern living. Idealistic yet clear-eyed, reassuring yet invigorating, Lula Wiles has set the stage for better days.